Planetary Defenders: After NASA’s DART Comes ESA’s Hera Mission

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test, DART, mission is intended to collide with the smaller of two bodies of the Didymos binary asteroid system in autumn 2022. ESA’s Hera mission will then perform follow-up post-impact observations. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The world will be watching the milestone launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, DART, spacecraft on Wednesday, 24 November, intended to alter one small part of the Solar System forever.

DART will collide with the small moon of an asteroid in order to shift its orbit around its parent body – to test the concept of diverting threatening objects away from Earth.

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NASA, SpaceX Launch DART: First Test Mission to Defend Planet Earth

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, Pacific time (Nov. 24 Eastern time) from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. DART is the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test, demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection technology. The mission was built and is managed by Johns Hopkins APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the world’s first full-scale mission to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards, launched Wednesday at 1:21 a.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Just one part of NASA’s larger planetary defense strategy, DART – built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland – will impact a known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth. Its goal is to slightly change the asteroid’s motion in a way that can be accurately measured using ground-based telescopes.

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DART on Target – Six Questions with Mission Manager Clayton Kachele

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

Editor’s Note: DART is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg on Nov. 23 at 10:21 p.m. PST (Nov. 24 at 1:21 a.m. EST). NASA will stream the launch live on its website. 

By Wayne Smith
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

It sounds like a plot for a movie but protecting Earth from a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid is the objective of an upcoming NASA mission.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for mitigating such a threat. DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth. The DART spacecraft launch window opens Nov. 24. It will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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Testing Mini-radar to Peer Inside an Asteroid

Juventas CubeSat undergoing tests at ESTEC in The Netherlands. (Credit: ESA-P. de Maagt)

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — A specially upgraded radio-frequency chamber in ESA’s technical heart is testing what is set to become the smallest radar system to be flown in space, hosted aboard a breadbox-sized spacecraft.

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NASA TV to Air DART Prelaunch Activities, Launch

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft at Didymos. (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the agency’s first planetary defense test mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The mission will help determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course. DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth.

DART is scheduled to launch no earlier than 1:20 a.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 24 (10:20 p.m. PST Tuesday, Nov. 23) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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Join NASA’s Virtual Social to Experience the Launch of the #DARTMission

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Social media users are invited to register to take part in our global virtual NASA Social for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, directed by NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). This mission is targeted to launch at 10:20 p.m. PST, Nov. 23, 2021, (1:20 a.m. EST, Nov. 24), aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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Near-Earth Asteroid Might be a Lost Fragment of the Moon

The Moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1973, well before research would find signs of rust on the airless surface. (Credits: NASA/JPL/Northwestern University)

TUCSON, Ariz. (University of Arizona PR) — A near-Earth asteroid named Kamo`oalewa could be a fragment of our moon, according to a paper published today in Nature Communications Earth and Environment by a team of astronomers led by the University of Arizona.

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DART Arrives at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Its Final Stop Before Launch

Inside a cleanroom at Johns Hopkins APL, the DART spacecraft being moved into a specialized shipping container that headed across the country to Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, California, where DART is scheduled to launch from late next month. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Just two days after leaving the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, in a specialized container carefully strapped to the deck of a semi-trailer truck, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft arrived in California — its final stop here on Earth. 

The truck, spacecraft and a small motorcade of APL engineers and technicians pulled into Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, California, on Saturday, Oct. 2, in the early afternoon local time. 

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NASA Mission Helps Solve a Mystery: Why Are Some Asteroid Surfaces Rocky?

Closeup of the rocky surface of the Bennu asteroid. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

by Mikayla Mace Kelley
The University of Arizona

Scientists thought Bennu’s surface was like a sandy beach, abundant in fine sand and pebbles, which would have been perfect for collecting samples. Past telescope observations from Earth had suggested the presence of large swaths of fine-grained material smaller than a few centimeters called fine regolith.  But when NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission arrived at Bennu in late 2018, the mission saw a surface covered in boulders. The mysterious lack of fine regolith became even more surprising when mission scientists observed evidence of processes potentially capable of grinding boulders into fine regolith.

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NASA Team Remains Focused on Lucy’s Solar Arrays

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

NASA Mission Update

After successful separation from the rocket on Oct. 16, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft deployed both solar arrays. Soon after deployment, NASA received confirmation that one of the solar arrays was fully deployed and latched. Analysis currently shows the second solar array is partially unfurled. The team continues to look at all available engineering data to establish how far it is deployed. That solar array is generating nearly the expected power when compared to the fully deployed wing. This power level is enough to keep the spacecraft healthy and functioning.

The Lucy spacecraft has remained in safe mode and is transitioning to cruise mode today. This mode has increased autonomy and spacecraft configuration changes, which is necessary as Lucy moves away from Earth. The team continues its assessment and an attempt to fully deploy the solar array is planned no earlier than the end of next week.

Lucy has successfully fired thrusters to slew the spacecraft with the current array configuration and will safely continue with desaturation maneuvers — small thruster firings to manage the spacecraft’s momentum — as planned.

The operations team has temporarily postponed the deployment of the instrument pointing platform to focus on resolving solar array deployment. The operations team continues to execute all other planned post-launch activities. The ULA Atlas V rocket delivered Lucy precisely to the target point at separation, and so a backup maneuver called the Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) is unnecessary and has therefore been canceled. The first maneuver will now be what’s known as TCM-2, currently scheduled for mid-December.

The project is evaluating whether there are any long-term implications to other scheduled activities.

Lucy Team Analyzing Problem with Spacecraft Solar Array

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Following a successful launch on Oct. 16, 2021, analysis of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft systems show the spacecraft is operating well and is stable. Lucy’s two solar arrays have deployed, and both are producing power and the battery is charging. While one of the arrays has latched, indications are that the second array may not be fully latched. All other subsystems are normal. In the current spacecraft attitude, Lucy can continue to operate with no threat to its health and safety. The team is analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array.

Editor’s Note: The main question appears to be how the situation might affect thruster firings on the spacecraft, which is due to explore one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids during its 12-year mission.

NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30 second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids. Like the mission’s namesake – the fossilized human ancestor, “Lucy,” whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution – Lucy will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

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ULA to Launch Lucy Asteroid Mission on Saturday Morning

Lucy spacecraft inside its payload fairing being installed on its Atlas V booster. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla., Oct. 13, 2021 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is in final preparations to launch the Lucy mission for NASA. The launch is on track for Oct. 16 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Launch is planned for 5:34 a.m. EDT. The live launch broadcast begins at 5 a.m. EDT on Oct. 16 at  www.ulalaunch.com.

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ESA Scales Up Planetary Defense Facilities

Europe’s Planetary Defenders settle into their new home. (Credit: ESA)

FRASCATI, Italy (ESA PR) — The new heart of ESA’s Planetary Defence Office was inaugurated today, heralding a new chapter in the Agency’s work to protect Earth from dangerous near-Earth objects, aka asteroids.

For years, ESA has been dedicated to opening our eyes to hazards in space, and when it came to asteroids this meant ensuring Europe had the capability to detect, track and understand what’s out there.

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NASA Sets Coverage, Invites Public to Virtually Join Lucy Launch

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for Lucy, the agency’s first mission to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. 

Lucy is scheduled to launch no earlier than 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 16, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

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